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Get a grip? Get a new presenter!

Get a grip? Get a new presenter!

So Get A Grip heralds Ben Elton’s return to stand-up comedy – with a funky female sidekick to act as a younger hipper person to his old-dad persona…

So it’s a bit of a shame that it hits off with a quick comedy skit about the effectiveness of spam. Gosh, that’s so 21st century. No, it hasn’t been done to death by every other comedian up to now… Plus, for a supposedly topical TV comedy show, to go on about the Diana conspiracy theory doesn’t exactly scream of bang up-to-date comedy.

And it just gets worse. Alexa Chung might be ok at reading off an autocue, but she certainly doesn’t seem human doing it – couldn’t they get a funky young female sidekick who actually looks capable of responding to Ben ad hoc instead of reading from a script? (Shame I have to diss her really – how often do you get half-Chinese people on prime-time ITV?) Hell, she looks like Tracy Barlow as she smiles there watching her ranting sidekick go on. Plus, someone should have told her that one of the first rules of comedy is not to smile and laugh at your own jokes.

Ben hasn’t exactly moved on either – all the comedy sketch interludes are almost exactly the same format from his BBC series The Man From Auntie (which was 17 years ago), right down to the upside down chins. He’s kept his ranty persona – but now it sounds like the old dad (that he is), rather than anyone actually funny.

Producers of Get A Grip, there is one thing you can do which would make it so damn better. Get them out from behind the desk – it might make the show just a little more dynamic instead of having two people just sat there reading off an autocue.

Of course, this followed the hilarious comedy City Lights which had our two main characters hounded out of your house after witnessing a gangland killing. ITV’s Wednesday comedy night has some way to go methinks.

PS: I would link to my superlative Ben Elton website at this point, but I’ve got no idea where it’s gone. Such is the way of old web sites.

A weekend of comedy

A weekend of comedy

So, as largely predicted, Comic Relief turned out to be more or less a dead duck, comedically speaking.

I still don’t see what’s particularly funny about Little Britain – although it was vaguely amusing when Dennis Waterman sauntered onto the stage – and the much-vaunted Vicar of Dibley LAST-EVER episode was just embarrassing. I must have been having a nightmare when Mitchell & Webb came on as two singing snooker commentators – and I’m still struggling to find the comedy between two comedy characters in a wheelchair singing I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). It was trying so desperately hard to be this year’s Amarillo but it’s not got the novelty factor – or the “dance” which gets funnier with repetition. Plus the song is so over-familiar anyway.

The worst moments were any time Davina McCall was on screen. Alternating between squirmingly-orgasmic thanks to the corporate sponsors (“Let’s hear a huge cheer for Cisco Systems! Yeah!!!!”) and oh-so-sincere think-of-the-children-please-think-of-the-children appeals for more donations, one is reminded why she’s on Celebrity Big Brother and advertising keep-fit videos and not, say, doing a Fearne Cotton and appearing on pretty much anything that has a live broadcast. Hell, in one weekend Fearne did Comic Relief, Eurovision’s Making Your Mind Up and I’m sure I heard her doing the Radio 1 breakfast show this morning.

Still, at least the Catherine Tate sketches weren’t too bad and the Ricky Gervais indulgent skits broke the norm. But they didn’t raise a titter.

Fortunately, Channel 4 rode to the rescue on Sunday with yet another list show – but this time listing the top 100 comedy stand-ups. I’d quibble with quite a few choices:
– Peter Kay above Eddie Izzard ?!
– Harry Hill above Bill Hicks ?!
– Chris Rock above Jerry Seinfeld?
– Billy Connolly as the top stand-up comedian ?!

and it was strange how most of the stand-up comedians I’ve seen on the circuit were languishing in the 20s, while the likes of Peter Kay and Lee Evans – funny, but a little too slick and ungenuine for my liking – were at the very top – but it was a good three hours of entertainment. Now if only more stand-up comedians came to North Wales!

Someone's taken the comedy out of Comic Relief

Someone's taken the comedy out of Comic Relief

I’ve been watching a lot of Comic Relief programming this week. Forgive me if this sounds as if I’m sat on my sofa with a blanket wrapped around my lap smoking a pipe and shaking my cane at the teen tearaways across the road – but it all seems a bit too slick these days. And (whisper) not actually that funny.

When the only comedy moment out of the incredibly unfunny and dull Comic Relief single, Comic Relief does the Apprentice and Comic Relief does Fame Academy is musing on what Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was on when she was sweating profusely, one has to realise someone’s taken the comedy out of Comic Relief. Which rather defeats the “unique” spin on what is essentially a telethon. Shame, really.

Still, I’ll be tuning in tonight, making the odd donation, looking at pictures of a man who painted himself red and buying Shaggy Blog Stories, essentially a book collection of 100 funny stories from around the UK blogosphere with proceeds going to Comic Relief. I really should have offered one of my oh-so-hilarious anecdotes but I’ve only just noticed.

Shame the-powers-that-be behind Comic Relief haven’t tried to capture the UK blogosphere in the same way – there’s not even a banner you can splash on your webpage.

Why do I have a particular interest in this? It was central to one of my favourite nights at work some eight years ago, when I was behind the scenes on the web coverage for Comic Relief:

– “blogging” from behind the scenes via live web updates, in the days when blogging and broadband barely crossed the lips of even a savvy web developer (whither blog this year, web chaps?)
– encoding and uploading Doctor Who videos in full Quicktime quality live as soon as they’d been transmitted
– hanging out in the infamous BBC canteen and marvelling at how big Dawn French actually is (the camera took away pounds with her then!)
– helping out on the Comic Relief webchats
– watching the frantic goings-on behind the scenes, and realising they weren’t that frantic
– marvelling at my boss’s then new-fangled hands-free thing for his mobile phone, thinking what a prat he looked in them, and how they’d never ever catch on
– being so tired and irritated (at what, I have no idea now!) at the end I didn’t go to the wrap-up party. One of those decisions I shall regret forever.

I really wish I’d done some screencaps.

"you think I'm unemotional … I cried at the end of Terminator 2!"

"you think I'm unemotional … I cried at the end of Terminator 2!"

I have been caught massively enthusing about the genius that is Spaced – the finest sitcom a pop-culture/nerdy obsessed person could ever possibly hope to have. Complete with strong characters all round. It’s so hip it hurts…

Anyway, skip to the end – and some kind soul has put up the first episode of Spaced online on Google Video. So here it is: watch it!

Then buy Spaced: The Collectors Edition from your friendly Amazon UK dealer.

Britain's Comedy Capital is … Cardiff ?!

Britain's Comedy Capital is … Cardiff ?!

According to one of those nonsensical surveys commissioned by companise which lazy journalists pick up on to fill a slow news day, Cardiff people buy more comedy DVDs than anywhere else – at least according to Tesco’s online DVD sales.

Not that I’m an expert on Cardiff, despite having lived here for four years, but for a bit of fun, let’s speculate on why that is.

The Young Ones … shouldn't be afwaid…

The Young Ones … shouldn't be afwaid…

Ahhh The Young Ones. That “classic” British TV sitcom about four young students which inspired me to create one of my first websites and FAQ back in 1994. 12 years ago. *gulp*

That website got me to where I am today. Lying in the gutter looking at the Star Bar and dreaming of a time when I was namechecked by Microsoft, Yahoo, Future Publishing and it got my foot in the door at the BBC. Amazing how I still, to this day, get the odd £10/US$50 voucher for sending people to amazon to buy the videos. It probably made more money than most of my dotcom employers in the late 90s.

The Young Ones was the Trojan Horse that allowed alternative comedy to sneak into British television sitcom land, and television comedy was never the same again. Indeed, one can argue that The Young Ones started the process by which traditional sitcoms have now apparently been killed off.

Ironic really, that when you watch The Young Ones again 22 years (!) on, it’s *so* horribly dated in a way that even older sitcoms (eg Fawlty Towers) just hasn’t.

Anyway, that short quick trip down memory lane was just an excuse to link to these video clips – one from the show itself:

An advert for the Young Ones computer game from the mid-80s. The graphics are amazing, the voiceover is an astoundingly bad impersonation of “Vyvyan” – and I still have no idea what you do in the game.

UPDATE: You can download the game, although you will still need a handy Commodore 64 emulator to get it to run on your PC. and there’s a walkthrough on how to play the game – although on the C64 version, there’s a bug which means you can’t win as Rik. That’s what you get for voting Tory.

On with the video clips. This is an MTV commercial for the accompanying album Neil’s Heavy Concept Album. A horrible mash-up of oh-so-British nostalgia and heavy American selling techniques.

(Found via screenhead.com)

And finally,

The joys of Radio 2 ?

The joys of Radio 2 ?

When it comes to planning a marathon (to me) 700-mile round trip between South Wales, mid Wales, North Wales and Milton Keynes, planning becomes extremely important. But not about the route, oh no – it’s the tunes, man. What is going to stimulate your brain on those lonely roads.

However, my fiendish plan to sample podcasting with my iPod came a cropper when I picked up my otherwise lovely-if-petrol-guzzling car. It didn’t have a cassette player to which I could attach said iPod – just a radio and CD player. So I was stuck with the radio – at least in those fortunate times when the mountains of Wales didn’t shield me from radio transmissions.

And so it came to pass that on a Saturday afternoon, I was idly scanning through the radio stations. And I came across the bliss that is Saturday afternoons on Radio 2.

Now, normally I wouldn’t go anywhere near Radio 2 since I still, for some unfathomable reason, like to think of myself as a reasonably hip dude – even if I can’t stand gangsta rap. (that’s sooo 5 years ago anyway). To my diseased trend-following brain, Radio 2 has always been a bit of a slippers-and-Ovaltine radio station, while Radio 1 and 6 Music has been the hip young thing. A bit too hip, since I cannot bloody stand Sara Cox, and she still pollutes the airwaves on Sunday afternoons.

But then I stumbled across the tail end of Jonathan Ross, then came a glorious hour of “comedy analysis”, basically an excuse to stitch together a bunch of comedy clips. Then came Chris Evans, and he sounds as interesting and zany as he ever was – except it’s far more palatable on a Saturday afternoon driving up the A470 than on a bleary-eyed morning. Those three hours were radio heaven, as far as I’m concerned.

So get my slippers and Ovaltine on standby, and slot a Val Doonican 8-track tape into the player, would you?

All-American Girl on DVD!

All-American Girl on DVD!

Perhaps the only Western-Asian comedienne who’s “made” it, Margaret Cho has just done the commentary for the forthcoming DVD release of All-American Girl”. Which ought to be interesting just to look at where it went right, where it went wrong and where it went nowhere at all. My brief incursion into British Chinese comedy has been well documented, so suffice to say I am more than slightly interested in seeing the programme and the results with the benefit of hindsight.

However, Margaret Cho’s highlighting of the realisation that there were “NO GAYS!!!” (her emphasis) in All-American Girl is perhaps a reflection of how her fans are pretty much pink-friendly these days.

In American comedy circles, are her fans more likely to wave a pink rainbow flag or an Asian flag? I rather suspect the former, in which case it ought to be interesting to speculate why she never got the support of Asian-American people.

RIP Dave Allen – who made my Dad and I laugh

RIP Dave Allen – who made my Dad and I laugh

Unfortunately, legendary comedian Dave Allen has died. I shall leave it to others to pay tribute to his comic genius, but I’m mourning the loss of quite possibly the only man who made my father and I laugh at the same time.

It’s alas a cliche to say that fathers and sons in second-generation immigrant families rarely understand each other. My Dad still has no idea what I really do for a living, and just tells people I do computer stuff. He doesn’t see the point in reading books (except to go to University and become a doctor) and my interest in comedy he just considers juvenile and silly. (He probably has a point).

One time, he came in after a hard evening at work, to find me watching a Dave Allen tape, at a point when Dave was listing the absurdities of the ways in which we tell the time … (“see, now there’s a third hand, which we call the second hand.”) – and all of a sudden, with my laughter I could hear my Dad howling away. Which I haven’t really heard before or since.

The stars walk right past me in London

The stars walk right past me in London

Having walked past Leicester Square (where they’re busy putting up metal gantrys for the BAFTAs), and walking down Coventry Street towards Piccadilly Circus and texting away all the while to organise plans for a friend’s witch wedding (don’t ask) when…

Flashbulbs and excited shouts go off behind me. I turn around, and realise that I’ve just walked past David Walliams and some glamorous woman en route to the Cafe De Paris club.

Then I realise it’s Graham Norton and Sir Ian McKellen talking and walking towards me, and two paparazzi-types using their huge cameras and taking pics behind me. So my shoulder is probably in a paparazzi shot somewhere. Then to complete the surrealness of the evening, Ben Elton and June Whitfield decide to walk past me (again! – I do wish they’d stop stalking me). Followed by Ronnie Corbett.

They all head straight into the Cafe De Paris club, walking past a throng of excited tourists all with their cameraphones held high trying to take a shot in the murky damp London night. I survey the scene, remembering my days covering the wonderful entertainment beat, wonder what “wonderful” showbiz party they’re all being seen to go into before leaving by the back door, then shrug my shoulders, and move on.

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